When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.
Have you worked for a boss who was frequently in the midst of a panic attack? Though he had a prestigious degree and was technically brilliant, he was dramatic about the smallest of things and made the workplace extremely stressful? Yes, he lacked executive maturity.
Have you shouted at a young team member, ‘What the hell were you thinking when you sent that email to our new client?’ Or, did you somehow manage to control your emotions and ask in an even tone 'Please tell me your reason for writing this email to the client’. Congratulations, you have aced Executive Maturity!
Executive Maturity, also called Poise under Pressure is both internal and external:
While it sounds a lot like parents counseling us in our teenage years to ‘grow up and take responsibility for your words & actions’, this skill helps leaders take control of their reactions and emotions. This critical leadership skill builds adequate self-awareness where no one can ‘make you angry’ as you know that being angry is a choice.
When addressing future leaders, I always ask them a simple question, “If somebody speaks negatively about you to you, will you get provoked? ” Regardless of the setting, my answer is always the same “Show presence of mind, never react impulsively and always offer a calibrated response. Dignified response determines the winner in controversial situations.”
—Dr. Santrupt Misra, CEO, Birla Carbon; Director, Chemicals; & Director, Group HR, Aditya Birla Group
While interviewing for this book, several young professionals asked me a counter-question ‘Where is the place for passion if we display so much control?’ It helps to understand that leadership styles have changed and evolved in the past few decades. In the 80s and 90s, bosses could be explosive, display bad temper, and use harsh words to mobilise their teams to perform. Today, bosses are expected to listen before reaching a conclusion, analyse the situation calmly and display sensitivity, all traits linked with Executive Maturity. Being emotionally stable helps leaders stay calm, helping their subordinates cope better during tough moments or a real crisis.
Poise under pressure: ‘Today’s CEO is the brand ambassador of his/her company, constantly connecting with the outside world to build faith and inspire trust. Interestingly, the community has become more visible and each stakeholder has defined their role/gain during this process. Shareholders have become more demanding (questions around CEO salaries/ bonus, bench strength, future investments), employees have become champions of causes, customers have become exacting, vendors have gone global and the government’s role has broadened to an advisor, regulator, and/ or partner. Clearly, the level of complication has increased where leaders have to learn and display Executive Presence to navigate through the intricacies of their role.’
—Indrajeet Sengupta, Executive Director & Chief HR Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages
Ways to build Executive Maturity:
1. Know your triggers: Leaders display heightened self-awareness and self-control to better understand the reasons behind their moods, emotional reactions and outbursts. Often, it’s a deeply embedded past experience, a childhood memory, or possibly a bruised ego. Work on ways to build self-control—a mentor, a guru, spirituality, yoga, breathing exercises, diverting your mind at that moment, the list is endless. When I asked a senior business leader how he maintained his emotional equilibrium, he said he carried a list of his triggers and used it as a guide each time things reached a point of escalation at work. This handy reference guide helped him stay calm and reminded him to bring self-control. A step towards building maturity is to stand up and own up to your mistakes and accept your weaknesses. Mistakes are acceptable and every leader has weaknesses—we are humans after all. But what can impact a leader adversely is the inability or unwillingness to accept or improve on these gaps.
2. Presence of mind: Leaders are excellent at maintaining poise under pressure by remaining calm and retaining clarity of thought. Also, under stressful conditions, they are expected to give a calibrated response where they weigh their words and gain a clear understanding of what to say, how much to say, and what not to say. Many situations may spin out of control in today’s turbulent world and everyone looks up to the leader to act as a bridge between the outside world and employees.
3. Positive attitude: Leaders push agendas with energy and enthusiasm. If they meet a roadblock, they focus their energy towards finding a solution instead of fretting about the problem. When a situation gets out of control, instead of wasting energy on harsh words, they focus their attention on ways to bring things back on track. Self-doubt and troubling questions starting with ‘what if…’ are kept to a minimum.
4. Exude calm energy: If you are faced with a stressful situation or if a colleague or client is demanding an immediate answer, remember to pause for a moment to breathe. Oxygen intake will force you to calm down, and taking even a couple of extra seconds to respond will help you refrain from blurting the first response that pops in your head. Panic is extremely contagious, so it’s in your interest not to catch it from those around you. If a colleague, boss or client addresses you rudely or is very demanding, remind yourself that they likely are not trying to attack you, but rather are projecting their own stress. Intense pressure on the job often comes from not one source, but from many demands all piling down on you at once. Instead of trying to fix everything immediately, prioritise what is most essential. This will allow you to focus, which is essential for staying calm in critical moments.
‘One of the earliest leadership lessons I learnt was that leaders have to be aware that their role puts them under constant observation and how they conduct themselves had an impact. Applying this early learning, regardless of my emotional state, I always stepped out of my room with a smile and positivity.’
—Siraj Chaudhry, Independent Director—Boards of Tata Global Beverages, Tata Coffee and IndusInd Bank.
5. Offer calibrated response: Words are very powerful tools and learn to use them appropriately. It is better to say ‘Please email the presentation by 4 pm today so that we can review and fine-tune before presenting to the client at 6 pm’ instead of the abrupt ‘I need the presentation by 4 today’.
6. Clarity of communication: Leaders give clear instructions which are easily to comprehend, leading to minimum ambiguity and miscommunication. On the other hand, professionals who speak in cryptic styles cause confusion seen as Clearly, leadership is the fine art of speaking loudly, clearly and crisply. The more you keep speaking or explaining yourself, the more you dilute your message. A succinct message, phrased well, passionately delivered works much better than a speech.
—Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce, India & South Asia
True winners like to define the expected standards of behavior and create a culture of fairness. They like to stay away from negativity which includes toxic behavior like biases, favoritism and gossip-mongering, leading to minimum conflict and difficult conversations. Ask yourself a few questions - Was your decision fair? Did you allocate resources or tasks in a fair way? Did everyone benefit equally? Was the selection process fair? Did anyone lose out?
7. Change the perspective:
In today’s business world, all businesses face tough times—fluctuating markets, stiff global competition, technological changes, micro recession cycles in the global economy. Develop the ability to sit down, take stock of the situation and shift gears by changing the way they look at things.
8. Lean on your support group: Maintain a strong network of mentors and confidantes who can be relied upon during tough times. Tap into this group to get a fresh perspective on problems and possible solutions. Bottom of Form Make a list of your support group and maintain healthy mutually beneficial relationships with this network.
9. Remain Accessible: During periods of crisis, leaders lead from the front by remaining accessible to their teams for providing support and solutions. They do not hide behind closed doors or delegate the task of sharing important messages to the corporate communications team. You need to be available to your teams (physically and virtually), keeping channels of communication open.
Understand emotions: Be sensitive to the feelings of others and have a clear understanding of sympathy and empathy. While it's important to believe that transparency is critical, it's equally important to know that it cannot be displayed 100 percent of the time. At times, you have to hold back information from certain quarters or wait for the right time. For example, if an important decision is to be made about reorganisation, knowing it has to be kept discreet till the appropriate time is executive maturity on display.
11. Learn to emote: Like good actors who sink deep into their characters, authentic leaders are genuine in their communication and display a range of emotions which are in sync with their words. They express their views openly about industry, society or the planet and don’t harbour any hidden agendas. By speaking openly, they ensure that there are no questions or red flags regarding their authenticity. Also, they know how to pepper their conversations with a touch of humour and details about the lives of their team members. Bill Gates, for example, is not a loud, charismatic, light-up-the-room type of guy, yet he has a tremendous presence because he's able to concentrate on his vision and to communicate it in a way that makes people listen.
‘I’d like to reiterate my belief that Executive Presence is a layer on top of what is inside you, your authenticity. Depending on the outer layer without making yourselves worthy, can be painful at best and dangerous at worst.’
—Manish Sabbarwal, Chairman and Co-founder, Teamlease Services
—Extract from Executive Presence: The POISE formula for Leadership authored by Shital Kakkar Mehra, published by HarperCollins India
(Edited by: By Ajay Vaishnav)